To Provide Proper Compensation for Hearing Impairments, the Labor Department Should Change Its Criteria

HRD-78-67: Published: Jun 1, 1978. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1978.

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Millions of American workers have been exposed to occupational noise levels which may result in hearing impairment. Federal civilian employees are covered by the Federal Employees' Compensation Act which is administered by the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) in the Department of Labor. Between 1969 and 1976, about 36,000 claims for hearing impairment compensation were filed by federal civilian employees for a potential liability exceeding $185 million.

Most of this liability was due to Department of Labor modifications in 1969 and 1973 of a generally accepted hearing impairment formula developed by the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology (AAOO) and endorsed by the American Medical Association. The act itself does not specify the criteria to be used in determining the extent of an employee's permanent impairment. It specifies only that the permanent portion of an impairment must have been proximately caused by employment to qualify for a scheduled award. These factors are often inadequately established and result in considerable overcompensation. While OWCP regulations require that compensation be provided for the full degree of impairment if the condition was aggravated by the occupational environment, agency officials have expressed concern as to whether the employer should be liable for the portion of impairment that existed before employment.

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